All is quiet in the halls of Mt. Peacemore University on Christmas Eve. With everyone home enjoying the holidays, the only person left is the janitor to clean the messes left behind by the kids. That is until he finds himself face to face with walking cadavers. After battling dozens of the of the undead, the janitor stops in at a nearby bar to clean up. That's when Sam, a local police officer, wants to know what the story is behind all the blood. Now the janitor finds himself back at the college with the police, a bartender, a drunk, a perp and whole bunch of zombies. What a way to spend Christmas.
My review for "A Cadaver Christmas" has been long overdue. The movie made my Best of 2011 list for crying out loud and yet there is still no review on the Film Bizarro website. But there is a reason for that -- not a very good reason but it's a reason. I enjoyed "A Cadaver Christmas" so much that I didn't think it was possible for me to put together a review that would do the movie justice -- kind of why it takes me so long to turn out certain reviews. Now that the movie has been officially released by Level 33 Entertainment, I figured it was time to do right by the guys who made one of my favorite zombie movies.
The janitor from the local college storms into a bar on Christmas Eve, covered in blood. After washing up, Eddie, the bartender, convinces the janitor to sit and have a beer in order to buy time so Sam, Eddie's friend and police officer, can come and see what's going on. It's then we find out the janitor has been fighting off reanimated cadavers at the college -- unwillingly to believe such a story, Sam, Eddie, Tom the town drunk and a perp that Sam picked up earlier, head back to the college to find out the truth.
One of the best moments in "A Cadaver Christmas" is that it hooks you from the very start. It's amazing how bland and formulaic horror movies are anymore. Almost all open with something happening to a current nameless victim -- case in point with slashers, let's use the "Wrong Turn" series as an example, it opens up with a random person getting killed with plenty of gore shown while the killer remains unseen/off screen. With "A Cadaver Christmas" it hooks the viewers with humor, great line delivery and well placed music.
Sam: "Is that the guy?"
Janitor: "Yeah, I'm the guy."
Sam: "You better start talking fast dickweed because your friends are going on a rampage."
Janitor: "They're not my friends."
Sam: "Then who are they?"
*cue theremin theme song*
*cut to zombie bashing with a mop*
I can't recall the last time a movie's opening had me pumped before the opening credits started rolling but that's because, I think, "A Cadaver Christmas" has something that a lot of independent and low-budget movies are missing these days. It has a cinematic sense. While I love the world of independent film, it seems like a lot of them are generic, point-and-shoot, paint-by-numbers productions. It's not just because there is depth in the shots with blocking that has actually been thought out, as well as actual lighting being used in "A Cadaver Christmas". It has all of that (it's amazing how simple-quality camera work can improve the look and the quality a movie has) and then some, but there's more to it than that.
By cinematic sense, I mean that the movie feels bigger than just another low-budget zombie movie. A lot of similar movies only latch on to one particular element (i.e. gore) or they only do enough just to skate by. "A Cadaver Christmas" feels like a mixture of 50's sic-fi movies, Italian zombie movies and modern day horror-comedies -- the movie never shows the budget and crew restrictions that it had.
Each element to the movie is as important as the next. "A Cadaver Christmas" weighs heavily on the comedic side because the movie is looking to be entertaining above all else. And even though it's not a scary horror movie, it still has a great atmosphere to it -- very fitting compared to a number of older monster and zombie movies. The laughs and the zombies are evenly paced out; it doesn't become a comedy that eventually reminds you in the end that there is a zombie threat and it isn't just zombies, zombies and more zombies. It's not about how many scenes can you have of a zombie tearing into some flesh and munching on some guts. Don't worry though, the movie has those scenes too.
To me, it goes to show how much time and thought was put into the movie because it finds that perfect blend for just about everything. It knows where the beats are; when it's time for jokes, when it's time for horror, when the perfect one-liner is needed and the movie even has a bit of a sentimental side to it too. While surprising, it helped "A Cadaver Christmas" step up and away from the horde of mediocre zombie movies and the whole zombie-craze that has saturated pop-culture.
The movie demonstrates the quality of the writing and filmmaking that went into when you look at the characters. "A Cadaver Christmas" isn't strictly about the characters -- it has a competent story with some new zombie-mythos that help make things more interesting. I still would also consider it a character movie because it has strong characters (they aren't there to raise the body count) -- they're all identifiable and each bring something to the table in terms of entertainment and laughs. You can't help but like all of the characters and even find yourself favoring the ones who have a tendency to make the situation worse. Even the creepy Perp who finds love in all the wrong places has some great moments that will undoubtedly create a fan base.
With that, I have to say that Daniel Rairdin-Hale (The Janitor), Hanlon Smith-Dorsey (Tom the town drunk) and Yosh Hayashi (Sam Sheriff) stole the show. It's a great pairing of characters and actors as they had that chemistry that is needed in any movie. The Janitor and Sam have that perfect odd-couple, protagonist/antagonist relationship -- you like them both, you hate them both but you love seeing them going at it. Then the blooming friendship between Janitor and Tom is hilarious but also makes "A Cadaver Christmas" bizarrely fitting for the Christmas season. Maybe it's all the blood, guts and cadavers that bring out the best in people.
I couldn't be giving "A Cadaver Christmas" anymore of a reach around if I wanted to but that's because it was fan-fucking-tastic. The overall quality of the movie and considering how little it was made for (again, in terms of both budget and crew) makes me unashamed of the praise I give it because the movie deserves it. I am at the point where I dislike anything zombie related because I am so tired of pop-culture's obsession with the undead and all the terrible movies that have come out. But I absolutely loved "A Cadaver Christmas". When I initially received the screener I probably watched the movie three times in a single day because it was so much fun.
That's the biggest thing and the thing that makes me say everyone needs to check out the movie -- it's fun and entertaining. Period. It has great writing and features great talent both in front and behind the camera and the people involved with the movie deserve all the accolades that they receive. It's the fact that the movie hits all the right notes and doesn't ever stop being enjoyable is why it's worth the time. With a group of friends or watching it alone, it still has the same quality and entertainment value but, with that said, it's a shame that this movie didn't make it to more big screens outside of film festivals because that's where it belongs.
The only thing left to say is, "Mumba-day."